To set the context of my tale, my wife kindly joined me for the conference. She was a good sport to come, so I sought to reward her with a bucket list event on Saturday night. We went to a "little" restaurant in Napa Valley called the French Laundry. For those not familiar with it, the French Laundry is an over-the-top Michelin 3-star restaurant that has been blowing the hair of foodies back for many years. It was started and is still run by one of the most creative chefs on Earth, Thomas Keller, who was reportedly the inspiration for the Pixar film Ratatouille.
|The French Laundry. It seems harmless enough from the outside...|
For people who love good food, this place is a shrine. They only seat 16 tables a night, and every dinner is a three hour culinary marathon. It is horribly expensive, and almost impossible to get a reservation under two months in advance. In fact, the general manager shared with us that there was a 900 person waiting list for that Saturday night (!).
So why did my colleague urge me to keep this little adventure to myself? Either because she thought that I would sound like a complete spendthrift, blowhard-showoff (fair point) or that it would be a strange thing to share in a blog about weight loss. Perhaps one could compare a weight-concerned person going to the French Laundry to a heroin addict touring poppy fields. I have a very different view.
First off, the experience was amazing and surreal. Nine perfect courses with incredible wines paired accordingly. Every single bite was spectacular and amazing. By the end of the three hours I was stuffed, yet I literally soldiered through the last petit four served. It all seemed like fairly delinquent behavior for a member (let alone President) of Weight Watchers. But was it?
The thing about a place like the French Laundry is that it truly is a bucket list experience. The restaurant shared an interesting data point with me: off all the people who go, only 3% come back more than once. It's not because it isn't spectacular, but it's because it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This isn't the kind of dining experience that I would call vaguely normal. I'm not at risk of becoming a multiple-time per week (let alone lifetime) visitor given the minor and inconvenient fact that it would bankrupt me. Beyond that, I think some of the magic would be lost in the process.
The second aspect about a place like this is that the food just isn't normal. I tried cooking a full three course meal from a restaurant like this once (from Rick Bayless's original cookbook from Topolobompo in Chicago). It took me 1.5 days to prepare, and it was about 45% of the quality that the chef would have served, and I had a wicked backache for my trouble. Every single little dish that I had last Saturday night was a painstakingly prepared piece of cooking perfection. It was as much artistry as eating. Again, it was an experience, not a regular occurrence.
A third notable point about the meal last night was that each dish consisted of about 4-5 bites. It was enough to savor and taste before the point of sensory dullness. In my mind this is the way food is meant to be enjoyed. Whether nine such dishes is really appropriate is a subject for a different debate.
For me, being healthy and on Weight Watchers is not about becoming a monk who swears off the celebration of food. It's about living an existence that largely consists of healthy choices and real food. To be clear, I did not save my Weekly POINTS Allowance for the occasion. I just rolled with it. I'm glad I did, and I'd do it again. Maybe in 10 years.
All of this has spurred me to publish my field guide to restaurant decadence:
- Fast food: I rarely eat fast food. When I do, I always go for the best option, usually salad with a low fat dressing. I had enough Big Macs in my youth to last for my entire life.
- Breakfast and lunch joints: I stay on the straight and narrow here. I rarely blow out my POINTS on breakfast, and I don't like to do it for lunch either. Again, I'm pretty disciplined if I see it as a regular meal stop.
- Nice restaurants (dinner): I will loosen up a little bit here, but I will still seek the least-bad option. I might have dessert, but it is often just a few bites of a shared portion. Seafood is usually my go-to option in these places.
- Bucket list restaurants (like last weekend): No holds barred. I have whatever and as much as I can handle. I define a bucket list restaurant as a place I go to once every three to four years.
I like that I follow a program that affords me flexibility to live my life and occasionally enjoy once-in-a-blue-moon crazy restaurants. In my book, losing my mind once a year is not being off program. We Weight Watchers people love food, which is precisely why we love Weight Watchers.
Postscript: I weighed-in on Tuesday, and I was up 3 pounds. If only there was some new program coming out that could help me wipe that slate clean...
What constitutes a lose-you-mind-and-forget-your-WPA worthy dining event for you?